North Florida Land Trust has received a donation of a conservation easement in Columbia County which lies within the critical Ocala to Osceola, or O2O, wildlife corridor. Sam “Buck” Griffis and his wife, Vickie, donated the land on their 68-acres known as Sweet Gum Farm to make sure it remains free from development forever. A grant NFLT received from the EJK Foundation of Houston, Texas helped to fund the due diligence that was needed to complete the donation.
“Buck and Vickie consider the farm a sanctuary and wanted to make sure no one could come in and turn their beautiful farm into a residential development,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “The Griffis’ will continue to own the land where they enjoy raising cattle, horses and chickens while ensuring it will remain a farm and natural forest in perpetuity.”
In addition to the farmlands and some unimproved pastures, the property consists of pine flatwoods, depression marshes, mixed scrub-shrub wetlands and upland hardwood forests. It lies within the boundaries of the Osceola National Forest and is adjacent to the forest on two sides. Preserving the land not only protects it from development but also helps further the objectives of The Forest Plan for the National Forests in Florida. The plan aims to improve ownership patterns of the forest to enable important management techniques including prescribed burning.
The 1.6 million-acre O2O corridor is a preservation focus for NFLT. It provides an important habitat for the Florida Black Bear and numerous endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snakes and gopher tortoises. The nonprofit is currently leading the O2O Wildlife Corridor Partnership, an effort by public and private organizations to accelerate land conservation within the O2O.
The EJK Foundation awarded NFLT a $450,000 transformational grant to help support its efforts in the O2O Wildlife Corridor and also issued a $75,000 challenge grant for additional funding for the project.
McCarthy said, “The EJK Foundation grant has allowed us to save another piece of the beautiful natural landscape from future development. We encourage any landowners, ranchers or farmers that want to do the same to please give us a call.”
NFLT has until August 31, 2021, to meet the challenge and is actively seeking funds to be matched 1:1 by the EJK Foundation if the $75,000 goal is met. If you are interested in supporting the O2O operations and have your gift matched, contact Megan Mangiaracino at email@example.com or (904) 559-4187.
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to protect the natural resources, historic places and working lands (farms and ranches) throughout north Florida. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations. For more information, visit nflt.org.